Posts tagged with: evangelicalism

In my previous article, Part One, I showed how a conservative political and social movement has evolved over the past fifty years in America and how the evangelical church began to get involved in this movement. This movement led to what has been commonly called the “Christian Right.” This abused, and misused word, is now used to disparage almost everything conservatives attempt to do in the larger culture. The result of this political debate over the past thirty years has been an increased partisanship in America that threatens to derail the church both missionally and culturally. As a result we seem to have reduced the public witness of the church to support for the Republican Party, or at least to a set of a few talking point issues, in some cases. It is time to take a new look at all this and ask, “How do we engage the public square in a more effective way?”

(Continue reading the rest of the article at the ACT 3 website…)

John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."

On this eve of the mid-term elections in the United States, it’s worthwhile to reflect a bit on the impetus in North American evangelical Christianity to emphasize the importance of politics. Indeed, it is apparent that the term “evangelical” is quickly coming to have primarily political significance, rather than theological or ecclesiastical, such that Time magazine could include two Roman Catholics (Richard John Neuhaus and Rick Santorum) among its list of the 25 most influential “evangelicals” in America.

When the accusations came to light about Ted Haggard, which led to his resignation from the National Association of Evangelicals and eventual dismissal from New Life Church, the first instinct by many was to see this as primarily a political event. Late last week James Dobson said of Haggard, “It appears someone is trying to damage his reputation as a way of influencing the outcome of Tuesday’s election.” Perhaps the timing of the charges did indeed have political motivations, but Haggard’s admission of guilt carries with it implications that reach far beyond mere politics, into the realm of the spiritual.

It should be noted that after Haggard’s guilt came to light, Dobson did say that the scandal had “grave implications for the cause of Christ,” and Pastor Larry Stockstill, head of the oversight board in charge of Haggard’s investigation, said “that politics played ‘zero’ role in the haste of the process that led to Haggard’s removal, and that the oversight board received no political pressure from anyone.” But even so, the fact that Haggard has been portrayed as a political heavyweight (with access to the President) and the National Association of Evangelicals has been called “a powerful lobbying group,” rather than an ecumenical and ecclesiastical organization, speaks volumes. (more…)

I saw the most fascinating and lively exchange between two political conservatives on C-Span Book TV last weekend. It featured Andrew Sullivan, the homosexual activist who is actually a libertarian politically, and David Brooks, the Jewish columnist for The New York Times. Brooks has an unusually keen insight into evangelicalism, as can be seen in his frequently thoughtful references to it. He is also a wonderfully nuanced political conservative of the very best sort.

The televised event was sponsored by the famous Cato Institute. Brooks critiqued Andrew Sullivan’s reaction to religious conservatives and especially his new book, The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It, How to Get It Back (HarperCollins, 2006). The book addresses the recovering of the real heart and soul of conservatism, a misnamed book if there ever was one. Brooks did a masterful job of showing Andrew Sullivan why he failed to understand religious conservatism on the whole. He made several important points, especially regarding John R. Stott representing more of the deep and thoughtful evangelicalism of America than Sullivan realized.

There were three things David Brooks noted that will stand out for me for some time.

  1. The conservative movement needs to leave a lot more room for honest doubt.

  2. The core lesson of 9/11 was the deep impact that sin still has on human nature.
  3. Conservatives need to embrace the truth of “epistemological humility” with greater understanding.

John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."

The role of evangelicals in the public square has been a major development in American life over the past twenty-five or thirty years. A recent spate of popular books has looked at this phenomenon very critically. The number of books from the political and religious left, arguing against the rise of the newer evangelical right, makes for a full shelf of books by now. Most of these popular and poorly written books sound like dire warnings about a coming religious takeover of the country. (Do not fear, blue state America is still pretty strong and this feared religious change is about as likely as a snow storm in Chicago on July 4th!)

The actual history behind all of this is really much more interesting than the fears. Historically, fundamentalism led conservative churches in America, since the 1920s, to pull away from public life in general, especially from politics. While mainline liberalism embraced a “social gospel,” evangelicals gave up on social and public involvement almost entirely. (The late evangelical scholar Carl F. H. Henry called upon evangelicals to re-enter the public sphere, writing several important books to that effect, more than fifty years ago, but few listened seriously to his intelligent plea until the popular revolts of 1980s gained traction.) In addition to this tendency to react to liberalism social gospel emphasis, evangelicals also developed escapist and over-realized millennial theories that fed a basic social passivity about the culture. This emphasis said, in effect, “Christ is coming soon so our only role in culture is to rescue as many souls as possible before he comes.” Many liberal Christians continued to engage the political process, even embracing a politics of personal destruction by the 1960s. But evangelicals, at least in my early years, saw politics as “dirty business” and not worth their time as serious Christ-centered Christians.

(Continue reading the rest of the article at the ACT 3 website…)

John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."

Today in Washington:

Christian Newswire — Amid mounting controversy among evangelical Christians over global warming and climate policy, the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance presented “A Call to Truth, Prudence and Protection of the Poor: An Evangelical Response to Global Warming” at the National Press Club Tuesday morning. The paper is a refutation of the Evangelical Climate Initiative’s “Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action,” released last February, and a call to climate policies that will “better protect the world’s poor and promote their economic development.”

ISA’s 24-page paper has been endorsed by 130 leaders, including 111 evangelical theologians, pastors, climate scientists, environmental and developmental economists, and others, plus non-evangelical experts on climate change. The paper presents scientific, economic, ethical, and theological evidence that mandatory carbon-emissions reductions to mitigate global warming would “not only fail to achieve that end but would also have the unintended consequence of serious harm to the world’s poor, delaying for decades or generations their rise from poverty and its attendant high rates of disease and premature death, and robbing them of the very tools they need to protect themselves from catastrophes.” It argues that foreseeable warming will “probably be moderate, within the range of natural variation, and may on balance be more beneficial than harmful to humankind.”

Read the full news release here. Download ISA’s “A Call to Truth” here.

Ron Sider, The Scandal Of The Evangelical Conscience: Why Are Christians Living Just Like The Rest Of The World? (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005), 144 pp.

“Summing Up Sider’s Legacy”

Ron Sider’s recent book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience, is a noteworthy achievement. One the one hand, it represents an almost complete shift away from left-leaning government-oriented solutions to social and economic problems that characterize the first edition of his popular Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger. This movement had already become apparent by the time Sider released the twentieth anniversary edition of Rich Christians, in which he embraced increased access to markets and capital investment as necessary components of solutions to global poverty. In Scandal, Sider explicitly acknowledges this perspective, as he writes of “the stunning success of market economies in producing ever-greater material abundance.”

Sider is thus able to recognize the basic goodness of creation: “Historic Christianity has been profoundly materialistic. The created world is good. God wants us to create wealth and delight in the bounty of the material world.” A key part of Sider’s project is to properly and relatively value the material and temporal in light of the spiritual and eternal. Thus he rightly notes that “historic Christianity also placed firm boundaries on this materialism. Nothing, not even the whole material world, matters as much as one’s relationship with God.” (more…)

Pro-family and church groups are battling over a proposed policy that would allow viewers to select their cable TV plans on an “a la carte” basis. But why are they asking the federal government to referee this fight? In this week’s Acton Commentary, I examine at the most powerful communications policy: Turning off the TV.

Read the full commentary here.

Related Items:

Daniel Pulliam, “Preachers and pornographers unite,” GetReligion, June 12, 2006.

Jordan J. Ballor, “Evangelicals and Cable TV,” Acton Institute PowerBlog, June 12, 2006.

Piet Levy, “Evangelicals vs. Christian Cable,” Washington Post, June 10, 2006.

Jordan J. Ballor, “Concerns about A La Carte,” Acton Institute PowerBlog, January 2, 2006.

Jordan J. Ballor, “A La Carte,” Acton Institute PowerBlog, December 2, 2005.

Jordan J. Ballor, “Faith in the FCC,” Acton Commentary, March 23, 2005.

Jordan J. Ballor, “Confusing Coercion and Conversion,” Acton Commentary, May 5, 2004.

Jordan J. Ballor, “Television not to blame for America’s laziness,” The State News, January 16, 1997.

A story over the weekend in Washington Post gives a good overview of the mixed motives behind evangelical campaigning for and against a la carte pricing of cable channels, despite the poorly chosen title, “Evangelicals vs. Christian Cable” (as if Christian broadcasters aren’t largely evangelicals of some sort or another). Just a sign that in the MSM evangelical is becoming a term with primarily political rather than theological content.

On the one side, lobbyists who want to be able to single out stations that they don’t want to receive. For some evangelicals, this is important because they don’t want to pay for or support stations that carry objectionable material.

On the other side, Christian cable broadcasters who are concerned that there won’t be enough demand for them to stay afloat. Or if there is enough demand, it will only be among Christians, and so they ministry that these stations offer will be truncated.

This seems to me to be an either/or situation, and I’m generally in favor of the former, although if consumers really want a la carte they shouldn’t need the crutch of federal legislation to get it. If you are going to allow choice for moral reasons on the one hand, you can’t force other people to get religious programming if they don’t want it. As it works now, most of these Christian stations are simply there as part of the basic package, whether you want them or not.

“‘We do not believe that ‘a la carte’ is the cure for the disease,’ said Colby May, attorney for the Faith and Family Broadcasting Coalition, which represents Trinity and CBN, in addition to other stations. ‘In fact, it is a cure that may very well kill the patient.'”

“But the Christian networks’ main concern is that the only ones willing to subscribe would be Christians. If a la carte were in existence, May argues, conversion experiences for alcoholics and people contemplating suicide or suffering from a crumbling marriage never would have happened.”

I actually do have some sympathy for this argument, but am not swayed simply because TBN and other Christian cable broadcasters are enjoying a sort of subsidization of their ministries from cable companies by means of these limited and rigid packages. What TBN and CBN have to fear is that many Christians won’t even sign up to pay for their station programming, and there are other ways to get the gospel message out to people, free of charge.

The Back to God Hour, for example, is the electronic media ministry of the CRC, and part of what the ministry does is to use radio signals to pipe the Gospel into areas where Christianity may be oppressed or illegal. By the way, Bob Heerspink, new director of the Back to God Hour, blogs here.

More thoughts here previously, here and here.

Update: GetReligion weighs in on the issue.

Blog author: jballor
Saturday, April 22, 2006
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Check out my Detroit News column today, “Humanity’s creativity helps environment,” in which I give a brief overview of the conflicting evangelical views of environmental stewardship.

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
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This article, “Evangelicals Debate the Meaning of ‘Evangelical’,” which appeared in the New York Times on Easter, is instructive on a number of levels. First off, the article attempts to point out widening “fissures” among evangelicals, in which “new theological and political splits are developing.” While the article does talk at the end about so-called “theological” differences, the bulk of the piece is spent discussing the political divisions.

Michael Luo writes, “Fissures between the traditionalist and centrist camps of evangelicalism have begun to emerge much more prominently in recent months in the political realm.” He points specifically to the issues of global warming and immigration, which recall the topics of a post of mine from a few weeks back. Incidentally, the text of my post somehow found its way onto no less an auspicious locale than the Sojourners site.

The fact that political differences about issues on which there are a variety of defensible biblical positions is viewed as a threat to the unity of evangelicalism says something important about how the movement is more broadly perceived. That is, evangelicalism has become publicly identified as much or more with particular political views than any necessarily corresponding theological position.

Thus, while Rick Warren is identified as “theologically and socially conservative,” the fact that he has generally avoided politics makes him a “centrist” rather than a “traditionalist” evangelical, according to the categories that the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life uses. And on climate change, for example, there is “a tension that exists between the traditionalists and the centrists,” according to the Rev. Richard Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals.

In my mind, however, this political aspect really is a red herring, albeit one of great interest to the secular media. Aside from the few social issues on which the perspective of Scripture is rather straightforward, evangelicals should be free to express the convictions of their consciences without being perceived as outside the tent.

And the reason that such clear moral evils need to be opposed is because their affirmation would directly undermine the normativity of the Bible. If anything, this is the baseline identifiying characteristic of evangelicalism, as evidenced by the doctrinal basis for the Evangelical Theological Society: “The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs. God is a Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each an uncreated person, one in essence, equal in power and glory.” (See also the “Statement of Faith” of the National Association of Evangelicals.) But otherwise, where prudential judgments are concerned, evangelicals enjoy a wide freedom and diversity.

And it is with respect to the theological differences that the NYT article truly gets to the heart of real cracks in the evangelical edifice. Ultimately the unity of any group of Christian believers must be founded on doctrinal agreement. Practice is informed by belief. The eventual failure of the Life and Work and the Faith and Order movements of the ecumenical enterprise to remain completely separate testify to this reality

This is why creeds and confessional statements have enjoy such an important place in the history of Christianity, and why the NAE and the ETS define themselves in theological and doctrinal rather than political, practical, or social terms.

If the unity of evangelicalism is threatened by disagreements, however sharp, over prudential political concerns, then the so-called “unity” is something more like the unity enjoyed by political parties and factions rather than that of the body of Christ. One characteristic of the spirit of sectarianism is that it makes matters of moral prudence and permissibility a litmus test of true Christianity.